Government agency received 300 calls a day during circuit breaker period for eldercare assistance

The Agency for Integrated Care said their outreach arm will continue engaging seniors by phone. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Social distancing measures have been hard on some people, especially the vulnerable and elderly like Madam Lai Yuet Meng.

The 75-year-old has not left her flat in Bukit Panjang, which she shares with her 69-year-old husband, since March.

They are both blind and without children to help them. The closest FairPrice outlet is a 30-minute journey away by bus.

Thankfully, they have had volunteers from the Silver Generation Office (SGO) to help them, from picking up their groceries to accompanying them for hospital appointments.

The volunteers got in touch with Madam Lai after she called the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) hotline. The SGO is the agency's outreach arm.

The AIC, which supports seniors and their caregivers, and links callers to community care services, saw a spike in calls during the circuit breaker period that started on April 7.

It received an average of 300 calls a day in the two months leading up to Monday (June 1), or 25 per cent more calls per day.

An AIC spokesman told The Straits Times that besides inquiries on eldercare-related financial aid schemes, callers have asked for meals to be delivered to the elderly.

The agency said it also had requests to run errands like buying groceries or collecting medication for seniors who have to stay at home during the circuit breaker period, which ended on Monday.

Many had reached the agency through its helpline, which the AIC has been promoting through the media and its partners, among others.

Madam Lai learnt of the hotline while listening to a radio programme.

She needed help after her husband lost his job as a masseur in April when his employer's business was affected by the pandemic.

Her husband received the Temporary Relief Fund of $500 from the Government in April and the Social Service Office is helping him to apply for the Covid-19 Support Grant.

Those who have lost their jobs, among other groups, due to the pandemic can get up to $800 a month for three months under the grant.

Madam Lai said she and her husband are also digging into their savings for their daily needs.

Vulnerable seniors

The AIC spokesman said that seniors were one of the more vulnerable groups during the circuit breaker period.

"This is especially so for those who are physically frail, or live alone or have little family support, who may need more help in dealing with the Covid-19 situation or with day-to-day living, but do not know who to turn to for help."

But the agency did not just wait for calls.

The SGO called seniors who live alone or have little family support to check on them and to offer support.

The AIC said the outreach arm will continue engaging seniors by phone and expand the pool of those it targets, including elderly caregivers, until it is able to resume its "face-to-face home engagements".

The mode of engagement will be adjusted based on guidance from the multi-ministry task force tackling the Covid-19 outbreak.

"For seniors without phones or who remain uncontactable, SGO will continue to conduct short, physical visits with the necessary precautionary measures to ensure that they are safe and well."

For now, the SGO calls Madam Lai once a week to check in on her.

"It's good to have someone to chat with me. At least I don't feel so lonely," she said.

Besides buying groceries, the SGO volunteers will be accompanying Madam Lai to the hospital at the end of June for her physiotherapy session.

A Ministry of Social and Family Development spokesman said the ministry is aware of Madam Lai's case.

"We understand that Madam Lai is retired and receives a pension.

"Madam Lai's husband applied for ComCare assistance in April, but the family declined to share information on their household finances, and hence we were not able to process his application.

"We will continue to work with our community partners to engage and support the family as needed."

Although Madam Lai has found it hard to cope with her disability, finances and the measures in place to curb the outbreak, she appreciates the help she has been receiving.

"I'm thankful that there are people to help me. I don't know all the changes due to Covid-19 and I feel it is better if someone can accompany me to hospital," she said.

Those who know of any seniors who need assistance can call the AIC hotline on 1800-650-6060.

Those who come across individuals or families who require support can call the ComCare hotline on 1800-222-0000 or approach the nearest Social Service Office.

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